Ruth Fox

Audiological history: My hearing loss started at birth and progressively increased until my hearing was completely gone. Because the progression was slow, my speech developed naturally except for the “L” and “R” sound, which most children start using around age four. My earliest audiogram, taken at the age of eight, showed a 60dB loss. At the age of 17, I received my first hearing aid and speech therapy helped me learn to pronounce the “L” and “R” sounds. At the age of 39, I received a cochlear implant. Thirteen years later, when needing an MRI, my implant, which was not MRI compatible, was removed. After the MRI, I was re-implanted. Shortly afterwards I received a diagnosis of Mitochondrial Myopathy, a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, which is assumed to be the cause of my hearing loss.

Musical Studies: As a part of a very musical family, my father began teaching me piano when I was a preschooler. I began violin studies at the age of eight. Because I could hear my violin better than the voices of my peers, it became my best friend. I spent all of my free time involved in music study, practice, and performance. In high school I participated in school orchestra as the concertmistress, played in the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, and attended the Interlochen National Music Camp for two years. For five years I played in the Hope College Orchestra and Symphonette, touring nationally. I completed a Bachelor of Music in Performance on the violin. As my hearing loss progressed, the least change in room acoustics or personal stress caused me to lose my bearing when performing. Thus performances became increasingly more difficult, and embarrassing. At the age of 24, I was no longer able to play my violin.

Cochlear Implant: My experience with music after receiving a cochlear implant has been an incredible journey. With unrealistic hopes of hearing it again, I took a tape of my senior recital with me to the activation appointment of my first cochlear implant. Unfortunately, I could not tell the difference between music, voice or noise. Everything sounded like a bunch of squawking parakeets. Within three months of constant exposure to sound, I began to experience some understanding of speech and enjoyment of music. Musical pitch was, and continues to be, the most difficult. Initially, after receiving my CI, I could only hear one octave of notes on the piano starting at middle C going upward in pitch. All of the other notes sounded like “ping” or disappeared altogether. After a couple months of practice, what I heard gradually increased to the full range notes on the piano, each as an individual pitch. New processor technology eventually allowed me to tune my violin in the customary way of gaining an “A” from a tuner, then tuning the rest of the strings to that A. When musicians, with normal hearing, listened to my playing they could hear me correct my intonation, as my fingers fell flat or sharp of the note. Music timbre, though not as difficult to hear as pitch, also took time to evolve. The order in which timbre became clear was: winds, brass, percussion, guitar, piano, strings, organ (this one took 4 years), and bagpipes (which has just become musical 28 years into the CI experience). Dynamics and rhythm has always been clear, bringing me enjoyment even as I patiently listened to incomplete musical sounds. Lyrics are another challenge, but speech reading or written words help to fill in the blanks. My loss of performance capability, first because of deafness and then because of muscle weakness, has been a tough journey. Gradually I have made a transition from performer to a member of the audience. I am enjoying and exploring other genre of music in addition to my beloved classical music. My soul sings again, and my life feels complete.

Last updated: August 2015